The Texas Senate’s push for property tax reform has garnered unusual allies, received typical opposition, and has even caused intra-party drama.

Shortly after the all-Republican Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted to support tax reform, that same county’s Republican party tried to kill any support for the GOP-supported state effort.

During the February 28 executive committee meeting, Reagan Reed, Houston correspondent for Texas Scorecard and a Montgomery County Precinct Chair, offered up a resolution expressing county party support for statewide property tax relief, as the Commissioners Court had agreed to implement. The resolution included a 4 percent rollback tax rate reduction, requiring appraisal board members to be elected officials, and support for SB 2, of which Montgomery County Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) is a cosponsor.

The resolution also considered some Montgomery County-specific reforms. It called on the Commissioners Court to implement a 20 percent homestead tax exemption, cut spending, and fully fund law enforcement.

Recently, at the urging of activist Kelli Cook, the Commissioners Court took up a vote to allow for a homestead exemption, which they had not previously offered. While Commissioner James Noack pushed for a 20 percent exemption, Commissioners Riley and Meador, and Judge Doyal opted for a 10 percent exemption. Because of this recent court spat, the part of the resolution concerning the homestead exemption is was what caused divide. If passed it would put the Montgomery County Commissioners Court at odds with the wants of the county party.

After presenting the resolution, Reed said that County Chair, Dr. Wally Wilkerson, and his assistant, SREC Member Melinda Fredricks tried to stop the resolution from being heard claiming that the party bylaws did not allow them to endorse candidates or issues.

Reed challenged their interpretation of the bylaws saying, “that section of the bylaws specifically refers to endorsing in primary elections only and was not applicable to this resolution.” After the committee asked to review the bylaw in question, they ruled in Reed’s favor overturning Wilkerson ruling.

“Chairman Wilkerson tried to kill the pro-tax reform resolution by misapplying a section of the bylaws which has nothing to do with resolutions – the conservatives challenged him on it, and he was overturned,” said Reed.

When the vote finally did take place, Reed recorded it, even though he received pushback from precinct chairs who didn’t want their vote against property tax reform to be public. They accused him of “voter intimidation” and Fredricks prohibited him from recording the vote, but by challenging her with both bylaws and state law he was ultimately able to record the vote.

Following the showdown, Wilkerson told the Conroe Courier that it was a late-night vote and “dozens” of precinct chairs had left. However Chair of Precinct 69, John Wertz, said, “I checked with several other precinct chairs, and none left before the votes were taken, despite Wilkerson claiming dozens left.”

Reed said he and Wertz personally counted approximately 35 precinct chairs there at the start of the meeting and when the votes were taken, 36 were there.

SB 2 has not only garnered overwhelming support from the grassroots, it has received support from organizations such as the Greater Houston Partnership.

The permissive attitude of county parties is what permits Republican elected officials to continue to campaign on one issue, yet vote against grassroots causes and taxpayer interests. If county parties continue opposing the efforts of the grassroots and remain on the outside of policy discussions, then what purpose do they serve?

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Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.